It was a mistake to hire Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as Manchester United's permanent manager, but the Norwegian's shambolic start to the new Premier League season should cost him his job, writes Alexander Netherton.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Manchester United's Norwegian manager, during an English Premier League football match at Old Trafford against Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.
Jose Mourinho gave United a thrashing with a ferocity that he was only able to show at Old Trafford on rare occasions. He won the Europa League, then finished second in the league, and his ultimate reward was the entrance of Fred, Diogo Dalot, and Lee Grant, followed by the sacking.
Woodward was correct in removing Mourinho when he did. The Portuguese had created such a toxic environment at the club that it resembled a combination of strike action and a nasty demonstration. Woodward and the United board of directors had been handed their marching orders, but realistically, their actions should be viewed as constructive dismissal.
In a brilliant move by Woodward, Solskjaer was picked as his replacement. He would be immune to the most venomous criticism as a club legend. As a result of his previous heroics for the club, fans would be hesitant to criticize the Norwegian. He also persuaded United to commit to an offensive style of play, which worked for a time.
There was a period after Mourinho's departure when morale improved and results began to appear. Woodward was overcome by the scent of his own greatness after a spectacular comeback triumph over Paris Saint-Germain earned him a permanent contract. Other managers should have been considered, but only the most ardent skeptics would have objected to the selection at the time.
Solskjaer did a decent job the next season. The team's meteoric rise up the table in the second half of the season was unquestionably spectacular, but the team's defensive frailties were exposed. There was a passion and resiliency in his demeanor, which could be due to the fact that Solskjaer is a popular figure on the training ground. However, there may be a reason for his popularity: it is evident that he is not forcing the players to knuckle down.
Dan James arrived at the club and lit up the wings like phosphorus, but his performances became more sulphurous as the season progressed. He fumbled, and Solskjaer failed to properly care for him. There is a promising player on the team, but he has already been assigned to the bench rather than receiving instruction and assistance. Paul Pogba has been lavished with adulation and indulged to the point where he has delivered zero great performances as a result.
The defense, though, is the most serious issue. Luke Shaw continues to be selected. Victor Lindelof is still afraid of footballs, while Harry Maguire has regressed significantly after establishing himself as a reliable centre-back for Leicester City. Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who started last season as a tackle like Jaap Stam but was limited moving forward, is now simply a meek presence. All of this may be blamed on Solskjaer, who should be able to guide the team to greater success. If he can't, he shouldn't be a coach in the first place.
What's surprising about United is that all of these issues were visible in the Europa League. Every club could use lockdown as an excuse, but United were woefully unprepared. They've had a stuttering preseason, just like every other team, but they've been repeatedly outrun. They were and continue to be a defensive disaster. This is a club with a lot of quality players, and they need managers who can see what they're doing. Instead, they have Micky Phelan, who was fired by Hull City, and Michael Carrick, who has failed to improve in his ten years with the club. Except for Bruno Fernandes, there is no one to go to for leadership or technical greatness, and he appears to have been dragged down by his teammates rather than pushing them up to his level.
While Mourinho went too far in his criticism of Woodward's performance, Solskjaer is well aware of his position. That is an issue. He had cash that his CV alone had not offered him after achieving third place and the Champions League. He promised United would profit from a down market, but all they've done is upset their fans. Perhaps he realizes that the United job will be his only notable managing position, and he will go to any length to keep it. It has allowed Woodward to waffle and equivocate.
Perhaps Woodward realizes that without fans and additional security around his home, he will be unable to face harsh, direct criticism. He can simply turn off Twitter and the television, safe from the prospect of supporters yelling at him from the stands or outside his mansion. While no one should have to face the prospect of violent violence, it is a motivating threat nonetheless. The coronavirus has rendered this useless, and instead of a hectic summer, fans and managers have been treated to a sluggish fall.
Woodward's employment should be jeopardized as a result of this. It's not going to happen. Solskjaer's job should be jeopardized as a result of this. It will, but it will take far too long. United already has a scapegoat, and the Glazers will consider it a waste to use him in these peculiar circumstances.
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